de position -
Against the bestial exploitation of capitalism!
Long live the struggle of the textile proletarians!
FROM RANA PLAZA ...
In a May 20, 2013 text (1) on the collapse of the "Rana Plaza" factory building - 9 storeys high and weakened after being raised by 3 storeys - caused by overloading and disregard for the most elementary static rules of construction, resulting in the immediate death, in a matter of seconds, of at least 1,140 workers and injuring thousands of others, all working for Western global fashion and ready-to-wear majors, we stressed that neither the bourgeois repentances of these garment barons, nor the sham legal actions and promises of the Bangladeshi authorities to "change things", would in any way alter the bestial working and living conditions of the proletarians of Bangladesh in the future.
Since this tragedy, the state and employers have consistently practiced the worst kind of exploitation of proletarians, who are literally chained to their conditions as slaves of capital, in all sectors of activity, including the textile industry. Among the window-dressing measures used by the government to calm tempers and display a certain facade of "dignity", was the appointment of a new "wages commission" bringing together politicians and bosses, charged with setting supposedly minimum wages for a period of 5 years, with an inflation adjustment clause attached to the wage agreement (2). This strategy was intended to enable the state and the bosses to "regulate" wage levels, to contractually sweep aside proletarians' protests about the permanent impoverishment they were suffering, and thus to hinder workers' struggles, strikes, factory sabotages and violent demonstrations.
On this subject, in 2010, the cynicism of the government and employers' wage-setting commission reveals in its raw state what proletarian labor power is: a commodity whose value is that of its reproduction, i.e. in terms of basic vital needs, to enable proletarians at least to feed themselves. This is measured in calories, before translating it into takas (the currency of the country)! The chairman of this commission, Judge Ikteder Ahmed, declared that to calculate the worker's wage, they had to base it on the number of calories that would keep him alive: "3200 calories per day, or around 27 euros per month", for 10 hours' work a day, 6 days a week (3). The generous and scientific commission then proposed raising the salary from 1,800 takas (then 19 euros) to 3,000 takas (32.6 euros)! The problem with low wages, according to economist Mustafizur Rahman, "... is that if wages rise, factories will buy machinery and hire less" (4)! More blackmail!
It's difficult to know all the struggles and uprisings that have taken place since the Rana Plaza tragedy, but let's mention a few examples, all linked to wage levels that don't allow families to meet the minimum subsistence level, often obliging them to send their children to work in even more miserable conditions, and to work beyond the legal working hours, even if it means skipping lunch.
In January 2019, faced with the impossibility of ensuring their subsistence and rent, 52 textile factories were brought to a standstill by a strike to demand higher wages. To meet their needs, proletarians have no other resource than to borrow money from unscrupulous loan sharks who, taking advantage of their distress, charge very high rates. The average debt of a Bangladeshi proletarian is now 70,000 takas. Repression of the strike was particularly fierce, and the bosses took part with their thugs alongside the police. This repression was combined with trade union moderating action. Union secretary Babul Akhter declared: "They [the workers] should not reject it [the wage agreement] and should calmly go back to work" (5).
In Bangladesh, it's not just the textile industry that's on the move. In August 2022, 150,000 tea workers, whose wages are even lower than in the textile industry, went on strike, demanding a 150% pay rise, with their wages capped at $1 a day. Tea workers are of lower-caste Hindu origin, which gives the bosses even more right to exploit them like animals.
Finally, in November 2021, a transport strike broke out in Dhaka against the staggering rise in fuel prices and the government's refusal to offset the increase with subsidies.
... TO THE STRIKES OF 2023
Turning to the textile proletarians, in 2018, the prevailing wage was set at 8,000 takas (around €65) for the 5-year contract period, i.e. until 2023. 5 years during which inflation, rarely compensated for - but also the habitual non-compliance with wage agreements, especially and systematically among subcontractors of companies under contract with the Western garment majors - has largely amputated the already meager "purchasing power" of the proletarians, which it would be more accurate to call "survival power". For example, with rents representing between 5,000 and 6,000 takas, what was left for proletarians to feed, clothe and care for themselves? The crisis triggered by Covid, then aggravated by the Ukrainian-Russian war, has generated high inflation in Bangladesh. By 2022, the state will be unable to guarantee the supply of energy, and will be obliged to restrict the supply of electricity. It will also have to increase food aid to the population to avoid the worst. The monetary measure he will take will be to devalue the taka by 25%, which will certainly help industrial exports, making them that much cheaper - a measure in favor of the exporting bosses, but not the proletarians. During this period of wage freeze, inflation officialy soared by 31.86%, which explains the seriousness of the economic condition of the Bangladeshi proletariat.
At the end of October 2023, to raise wage contracts, the BGMEA (the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association) proposed an increase of only 25%, or around 2,000 takas, taking the wage to around 10,000 takas, a real pittance. On November 7, under the pressure of demonstrations and rising worker anger, the Wage Board proposed a final offer of 12,500 takas, still well below what is needed to cover workers' basic needs. Textile workers, for their part, had been demanding a wage of 23,000 takas since the beginning of the year, to enable them to live soberly, but with greater dignity.
In response, textile workers first took to the streets at the beginning of November, then launched their strike movement, blocking factories and erecting barricades, united en bloc around this demand for 23,000 takas. The strike ended on December 15 after 3 weeks of intense struggle. As usual, the workers had to face the harshest repression: 4 workers were killed, a trade unionist was lynched to death by the bosses' thugs, not to mention the large number of arrests - 140 in all - and 10,000 strikers who were prosecuted for violence and many of whom will be sentenced to prison, as has already happened in other struggles, notably in 2019. There are also employer reprisals, including numerous dismissals and the systematic hunt for the most militant workers.
The strike had quickly spread to 150 companies, but to prevent it from spreading further and to divide workers by getting non-strikers to forcefully oppose strike supporters, the bosses imposed a lockout on 600 companies.
THE QUESTION OF UNIONS
The mechanics of union integration into the democratic mechanisms of class collaboration are by no means as well-developed as in the West, so brute force remains the principal means of bending the proletarians in struggle, who are also unlikely to trust bureaucratic compromises, which are always highly unfavorable to them. But trade unions (6), when they are not "in-house unions", i.e. organized directly by the bosses in their companies, aspire to participate in maintaining and balancing the social order and engaging proletarians in social dialogue and peace. Political and bureaucratic obstacles put in place by the state and the bosses continue to make the creation of trade unions extremely difficult. For reformism and opportunism, however, this difficulty creates a fertile ground for using the proletarian struggle to gain political recognition from the state in their role as guarantors of the social order, by contrasting the disadvantages of uncontrollable strikes for capital with the advantages of statuary collective bargaining as a necessary passage for workers' contestation.
BGWS's Talisma Akhter expressed this quest for state and employer recognition of trade unions as responsible social partners concerned with the "general interest", i.e. capitalist interest, in the following way: "Workers' anger has been fuelled by the rising cost of living, with staple foods becoming unaffordable, but violence is expressed all the more easily because trade unions are only authorized on paper and are controlled by factory owners. " (7). From this point of view, the role of the unions is to help prevent violence in proletarian struggles, violence of which the strike, which directly attacks employers' profits, is the first stage.
PROFIT ALONE RULES!
Bangladesh survives only thanks to its textile industry, but it's a sector in which international competition is fierce, particularly in Asia, where the main manufacturers - China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, India, Hong Kong and Indonesia - are engaged in an endless, merciless price war. In this sector ; organized along manufacturing lines, production costs depend mainly on wage levels, so proletarians are pressurized to the last drop of their sweat. All Western buyers remain silent in the face of the slave-like living conditions reserved for Bangladeshi textile proletarians - and those in other Asian countries - and when their lips seem to part, it's only to say a few soothing words about their great humanity and concern for workers' well-being, and to hide their greed for profit behind charters of good conduct relegated to the back of the appendices to their commercial contracts, which Bangladeshi industrialists will never respect, since their subcontractors are already not required to respect the minimum wage, and since controls are carried out in the benevolent interests of both contracting parties. On the other hand, Bangladeshi bosses are also making a virginity of themselves by complaining about these Western puppets who lecture them to raise their workers' wages, but who in any case are not prepared to pay a penny more for the goods, threatening them to go elsewhere for a better price (as in Mongolia and even Afghanistan)! This is capitalism, this is the "morality" of capitalism!
Last year's strike failed to bring the bosses and the state to heel, but it was not a defeat. All proletarians have won by further strengthening their organization, their capacity for struggle, sacrifice, unity and solidarity - in other words, by reinforcing themselves on the fundamental bases of classist struggle, without deviating from its material objectives. But today, the struggle must be extended to the defense of workers who have been dismissed, imprisoned or are still awaiting trial. The proletarians of Bangladesh must also act to ensure that their unity is never broken by the ideological influence of the clan bourgeoisies of national or religious communities. In the future, they must defend their class unity beyond caste and religious denomination, so as not to fall into the arms of the latter, which in this continental area is constantly advancing and spreading its poison.
(2) In 2013, the government had already introduced a 5% annual salary increase clause to compensate for inflation. In practice, however, this rule is almost always circumvented in various ways, both legal and illegal. Today, in addition to the 23,000 takas, the unions are calling for this inflation compensation to be increased to 10%. Over the last few decades, the salary has evolved as follows: 1983: 627 Tk ; 1994: 940 Tk ; 2006: 1662 Tk ; 2010: 3000 Tk ; 2013: 5300 Tk ; 2018: 8000 Tk.
(3) See. « Le Monde », 18/08/2010
(5) See. « Le Monde », 14.01.2019
(6) Among the main trade union organizations: the BGIWF (Bangladesh Garment Industrial Workers Federation) ; the NGWF (National Garment Workers Federation) ; the BGWUC (Bangladesh Garment Workers Unity Council) ; the BGWS (Bangladesh Garment Workers Solidarity)
(7) See. « Le Monde », 17.11.2023
January, 17th 2024
Il comunista - le prolétaire - el proletario - proletarian - programme communiste - el programa comunista - Communist Program